Damien Hirst is a contemporary artist I studied at the University. He was born in 1965 in Bristol.

I live in Venice and I visited the first part of his personal exhibition in the city: Punta della Dogana, in the Francois Pinault Foundation (the second part goes on in Palazzo Grassi).

For Venitians and for students entry is free on Wednesdays, so I went yesterday.

A legend told that a slave called Antiochia, back in the II century, escaped from his poor conditions, travelled the world, collected a large number of preciuous relics and put them all on his enormous boat, that sinked with all its treasures in the Indian Ocean near the East Coast of Africa.

Apparently the Wreck was rediscovered in 2008, with all the treasures. The name of the boat was Άριστος (àristos), which in ancient greek means unbelievable.

Hydra and Kali (detail)

So, this brilliant artist, which I love very much, just imagined what all these magnificent treasures could be.

He created numerous sculptures similar to other relics from every part of the world, from Egypt to ancient Rome, from India to the Aztec People.

A collection of rare jewellery discovered amongst the wreckage of the Unbelievable

He set up the exhibition in the same format of an archaeological museum, displaying every single piece in a window or on a pedestal.

The objects are actually, really unbelievable, just as the name Hirst chose says. Infact they are explicitly outcomes of the artist’s own creativity and mind.

Spoiler alert. Detailed pictures following below.

I just want to publish some of the things I saw, but to the people who do not love exibit spoilers (like me) I suggest not to carry on reading.


Here we are, then. Let’s start with one of the sculptures in the first room of the museum.

This sculpture is called The Diver, it’s realised in bronze and it’s 473 cm tall (yes, very big indeed).

Another interesting idea Hirst had, was to put the sculptures in a realistic context related to the rediscovering of the Wreck, and then to take photographs of the composition as a documentation of the venture.

The pictures are displayed in front of the sculptures in polyester printed lightboxes, on aluminium supports.

This is Proteus, sea god capable of constant mutation of his looks and shapes. He is, in this representation, in a relaxed pose, in transition between his human form and rocks and stones (material of the caves he used to rest in). The statue is realised in bronze.

This in Cerberus, the mythological greek monster. The statue is realised in bronze, and it measures 81×97×56 cm.

One of my favourite artworks in this palace has been Aten, the Supreme Solar God in an unusual pose for a bust, with the head pointing up to the sky and the eyes closed.

It is realise in red marble, grey agate and golden foil. It represents the art of tattooing and also the monotheistic revolution of the XIV century b.C. started by the Pharaoh Akhenaton.

Here are some more details.

The explicative tag says:

The practice of tattooing in Egypt is in evidence from around 2000 BCE and was traditionally associated with Nubian musicians and dancers. With her bejewelled nudity and exultant expression, this figure expresses the power of the supreme solar god, Aten, in terms analogous to the ecstasy of sexual love.

As you can see, also the labels are set in terms of an archeological exhibition.

In between of the many rooms, you can also find some artworks of rocks and sedimented crystals, like geodes and other minerals. The title of the window was A collection of natural gold ore formed on semi-precious stones and rocks and minerals salvaged from the wreck of the Unbelievable.

Another interesting element of the Treasures is Hirst’s explicative style choice is that, for some sculptures, he displayes the same identical artwork multiple times, one next to the other, in graduated different states of degradation of the relic. It starts with the most deteriorate ones, and ends with the restored ones (ore maybe he starts with the original and intact ones and ends with the corroded ones).

Skull of a Cyclops

The sculptures, in most of the cases, are in very big dimentions. In the central room the great sculpture Hydra and Kali overlooks the ambient.

It is made in bronze, and reaches the dimentions of a base of 612×244 cm, and a height of 539 cm.

It represents an indian goddess, Kali, attributed to the kushan period (between II century b.C. and the III century a.C.), fighting with the terrible seven-headed (multicefalus) snake called Nāga, that corresponds (or is very similar) to the ancient greek monster Hydra.

Also the figures may represent the extreme moviment of life and fight, all condensed in a dynamic movement.

Naturally, we can find in front of these two sculptures (the rediscovered one and the restored one) the documentation of the moment the statue was found; documentation that consists in the photograph in the neon lightbox.

The Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable by Damien Hirst is a deep exploration of the human mind and the way it travels in time and space just through an invented legend from ancient populations.

Hirst studies this concept very attentively, and, in my opinion, he finds out and illustrates how a myth is born and how the human creativity can transform it in a magnificent story that lasts through the centuries.


I can’t wait to see the second part of the exibition in Venice at Palazzo Grassi.
You can find more informations about Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi in Facebook and Instagram also in the Facebook page of the Francois Pinault Foundation.

You can also follow me on my Instagram, my Facebook and my official Website.

Ginevra Scialpi

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